We went to the Pine Tree Endurance Ride on June 25th in North Waterford, Maine. I trailered up with my friend Megan and her two sons, it was the first endurance ride for all of us.
I guess the best way to sum up the two days in Maine is to call it a learning experience on many levels.
We were still in the middle of one of the multi-day rain spells when we arrived. Luckily there were some small stalls left in one of the cattle barns (ride camp was at the fairgrounds) so we took four of those. We built temporary gates for the horses with the electric fence we had brought, but didn't electrify John and Minnie because their stalls were on the opposite end of the barn from Dolly and Coco. John ducked under the gate and was loose within five minutes. There were some large round pen panels laying in the grass, so I borrowed one of them and made him a gate with that. Around 11:30 that night, I was very grateful for the stalls as there was a thunder and lightning storm with heavy downpours. I felt bad for the horses that were in temporary paddocks for the night, even though they had rain sheets on.
Since it was an endurance ride, there was a 100 mile ride, a 50 mile ride and a 30 mile ride. We were entered in the 30 mile ride. The 100 milers left camp at 5 am, the 50 milers left camp at 6 am and we left camp at 7 am.
At 6:45 I had John tacked up and ready, and I wanted to head to the starting line to give them my number (there is a mass start for endurance ride versus the every two minutes for competitive trail rides). John doesn't do well if I "warm up," usually I mount up about one minute before its time to start the ride. I know this about him, but mounted up at 6:45 anyway. Mistake number one had been made.
I rode to the starting line and gave the starter my number. There were several horses down there and I decided to get him out of there. We headed back up towards the trailer area. I was standing still, trying to keep him calm when a horse came up the road (at a walk) behind us, out for its warmup. John reared straight up and leaped forward 10 feet. I wheeled him around when he landed so he could see that it was just another horse, luckily I had been prepared for it, but I took him up to the pulling ring to walk circles until it was time to go out. He calmed down doing this.
I waited until about 7:05, trying to give the other horses enough of a head start that we wouldn't run into them for awhile. Then I headed back to the starting line. Someone was shoveling out their aluminum trailer with an aluminum shovel, making a terrible scraping noise. John spun and tried running a few times before I just asked the person (who I couldn't see, I just yelled to them) to stop while we rode by.
Finally I got him out onto the trail and he was strong. Really strong. We passed 10 horses in the first 8 miles. I tried keeping him behind a few of the groups but it wasn't happening. The trail was rocky and slick from all the rain. This concerned me some because I couldn't always dictate speed or which side of the trail we were on.
They added French Hill to the first loop of this ride (its usually on the last loop). French Hill is a 600 foot elevation change over 1 1/2 miles. We walked most of it and it took the wind out of John's sails a bit. When one of the groups we passed caught up, I let them pass us and then kept them in sight for most of the time until the hold - I liked the pace they were going at.
After three hours we arrived at the hold. Tom did a courtesy pulse check for me and I was at 60, (the pulse you need to be at before your mandatory 40 minute hold begins) so I went straight to the vets. I ended up with Dr. King, he checked my pulse and it was at 52. I went to trot down the road and John didn't want to do it, but started trotting anyway. Slowly. I looked over at him and his head was bobbing up and down with every stride. Uh-oh. We turned around and trotted back to Dr. King, who said, "He's dead lame on his right front."
Our day was over after 17.5 miles. Dr. King could not find the source of lameness anywhere in his right hoof, leg or shoulder but it was definitely there. His pulse after trotting was 56. I left his tack on but pulled his bridle off so he could eat. And then we waited with Linda (whose horse was also lame) for the ambulance trailer. She'd been waiting two hours (she had entered the 50 mile ride). After another 2 1/2 hours, the ambulance came. A minor problem in that the trailer came unhooked from the trailer halfway back to ride camp (this freaked me out) and we were back safely at ride camp.
Before we went home a few hours later, I trotted John out again. He was slightly off, but only trotting downhill. Trotting uphill or on level ground he looked sound. Totally perplexing because he had been dead lame a few hours before.
The next day he was sound again.
I have a lot of theories. I think it was a hind end issue (the same one we had after the hilly Warren Tessier ride last October). I think part of the problem is in his stifles - I had been doing bodywork on them earlier in the season to good results but got busy and stopped. Another mistake.
So, this is my homework:
1. Get John on a joint supplement that doesn't have MSM (his current one does) so I don't have to take him on and off of it before and after every ride.
2. Start doing the bodywork again.
3. Start driving him again to build more hind end strength.
4. Work on his behavior - leaping and diving around ride camp at the beginning of the ride and then going as fast as he can, ignoring me for 8 miles didn't help his cause.
5. Add more hills to my training regimen.
He's still tired and not quite his sound self (I rode him Thursday). I'll let him rest a bit more and then we will begin our homework.